By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
An early Danish king may lie eternally outside his own nation’s borders. New evidence suggests Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson is buried in Weijkowo, Poland, rather than Roskilde. The Viking king helped settle Denmark.
The next time you try to pair a Bluetooth® device to something, make sure it’s in the right country. The early Danish King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson, for whom the technology is named, is at the center of an archaeological debate 1,000 years after his death, since he may have been buried in Poland instead of Denmark. Wiejkowo, in northwestern Poland, had ties to the Vikings during Gormsson’s rule and may hold his final remains.
Putting the odd controversy aside, Gormsson was instrumental in establishing Denmark, along with his father and son. In his video series The Vikings, Dr. Kenneth Harl, Professor of Classical and Byzantine History at Tulane University in New Orleans, regales the story of Denmark’s famous family.
In the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula, a trading settlement called Hedeby came to prominence during the 9th and 10th centuries due to Viking sea trading routes. These trading routes moved the concentration of wealth from the surrounding islands to Jutland. With money, came political power.
“That political power coalesces into a kingdom in the early 10th century, for two reasons,” Dr. Harl said. “First, King Harald Finehair was pulling off the first unification of Norway through sea power, and that was an example. The second was […] outside pressure.”
The Holy Roman Emperor at the time, Henry the Fowler, invaded Denmark in 934 CE and received submissions from many kings, including Gnupa at Hedeby. This invasion, along with Finehair’s Norwegian example of unification, prompted a sea king known as Gorm the Old to move into Jutland and remove the German influence from the area. That included deposing Gnupa, taking over Hedeby, and ruling as king.
“It is he who establishes a royal capital at Jelling, which is eastern/central Jutland today, and creates the first effective kingdom in Denmark,” Dr. Harl said. “Gorm the Old ruled Jutland, but he looked to the legendary kings of Sjaelland, as his model. He would like to think of himself as the successor of Skjöldungar, and that becomes an important point in the Danish political mythology.”
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Harald, “Bluetooth,” seemed to have gotten his nickname from a dead tooth in his mouth that likely had a bluish tint to it. Despite this dental setback, he was a savvy ruler who converted to Christianity and used institutionalized Christianity to secure Denmark’s future. His conversion came with two benefits, as he saw it.
“First, it would give him the kind of staff necessary to build monarchical institutions; that is, he could start collecting taxes,” Dr. Harl said. “The second point: By converting to Christianity and becoming a legitimate Christian king, that meant ‘hands off’ for the German emperor. That is, the German emperor in the south would have to attack Denmark with a really good cause.
“It was just not a matter of ‘going to war with the heathen’ and carrying out the kind of conquest that Charlemagne did of the Saxons.”
By being able to collect taxes and by stripping away Germany’s best reason to invade Denmark, “Bluetooth” turned the area from a trading settlement and regional kingdom into a true kingdom of Denmark. Next, he imposed his authority on the Danish islands and even southern Sweden, turning the entire area into medieval Denmark.
“He’s actually driven out of his kingdom in 986 by his son, Svein Forkbeard, and he dies in exile in 987,” Dr. Harl said. “But by the time of his death, there is a Kingdom of Denmark—there is a more or less territorial notion of what Denmark should be.”
The Vikings is now available to stream on Wondrium.